The News Letter has an article highlighting a further use / abuse of a Petition of Concern to block equality legislation with somewhat less outrage from the usual quarters.
Sandra Overend of the UUP’s attempted to repeal Article 71 of the 1998 Fair Employment and Treatment Order. This is the article which exempts schools from Fair Employment legislation.
Ms. Overend’s attempt was defeated by a Petition of Concern by Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
The continuation of this exception which dates back 40 years to the original drafting of Fair Employment legislation means that the 17,000 teachers working in schools in Northern Ireland are not protected in employment law against discrimination on the grounds of religious belief.
It is quite unbelievable that Nationalist Parties, who never tire of shouting about equality and civil rights, are vetoing an attempt to end this license to discriminate through the device of a Petition of Concern.
This is happening at the same time as a Shared Education Bill is passing through the Assembly. How on earth can we have Shared Education when the teaching workforce is kept effectively segregated, facilitated by a 40 year old loophole in Fair Employment legislation?
An SDLP spokesman said that the party supports equality of opportunity for teachers.
He added: “However, the Ulster Unionist Party gave one day’s notice of amendments which would fundamentally change teacher recruitment. Education reform should not be dealt with through amendments tacked on to the end of other substantive pieces of legislation.”
Sinn Fein MLA and education spokesperson Chris Hazzard said that the party “will not support rushed amendments in relation to equality and employment legislation being brought to the floor without a proper process of consultation and debate”.
It is only fair to leave the last word to Sinn Fein’s leader on the topic of equality:
And what’s going to break them is equality. That’s what’s going to break them – equality.
“Who could be afraid of equality? Who could be afraid of treating somebody the way you want to be treated?”